Magazine Article


The New Landscape of Commercial Photo Imaging

UV-curable inkjet printers will have a big impact in the large-format business since prices are coming down and addition of these printers create a host of new capabilities. They produce high-quality images that can be printed on many different substrates using inks that can cost less than aqueous ink. The UV-printed output needs no lamination and is very durable for outdoor applications.

Although the UV-curable inks reduce the need for lamination, there is still a need for overlaminates and mounting films for much of the digital photographic output that is produced. Films that work well for outdoor applications and those used for rollable display graphics are in demand now more than ever. Laminate manufacturers are keeping up with the changes by introducing products that are specially designed to work well with digital images.

"In response to the digital printing trend, new overlaminates have been introduced that match the requirements of digital output," says Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager for MACtac. "When it comes to overlaminating today, the basic options are roller coating with liquid overlaminates, or adding a pressure sensitive overlaminate to protect your digital print from physical abrasion."

An example is MACtac's new LF series, designed specifically for digital print overlamination. The LF3699 is a 2-mil gloss cast vinyl overlaminate formulated for digital applications.

"We're seeing better adhesion and less bubbling with the low tack adhesives and a wider variety of options. That allows us increased strength in our application options-long term and short term options are available now. Our experience with pressure sensitive materials has been to print the image, laminate and add adhesive on the back. Now with grand and large-format printers, we're turning more to pressure sensitive substrates to start with-turning away from adding a mounting film at the end," says Curran.

"We also used PSA overlaminates because they had built-in UV protection, especially Lustres and polycarbonates. Now, more inks are being manufactured with UV protection. We're now relying on those inks and printing on pressure sensitive materials instead of using them as overlaminates," added Curran.

Labs choosing to print directly onto vinyl PSAs might want to consider using MACtac's IMAGin JT5000 series media, which was voted as a material of choice in Photographic Processing's 2003 Reader's Choice Awards. These adhesive-backed vinyl films were developed for wide-format digital applications. The films are available in widths up to 80 inches, for short or long-term applications requiring permanent or removable adhesive. The company also offers a family of performance-matched overlaminates to help protect vinyl applications.

Many shops continue to laminate for image enhancement, additional durability and protection against abrasion. "When we do laminate, most of the product we use is cold-roll film (about 75 percent to 80 percent of laminated applications) and the rest is thermal. We mostly use thermal for portable tradeshow graphics and small specialty projects," says Curran.

Group360 used MACtac's Permacolor thermal overlaminating film last year to encapsulate a large-scale image that was mounted inside a salt-water fish tank at an airport in Hawaii. This complicated project won Group360 the Interior category award in the MACtac Worldwide Awards - 2004 contest.

MACtac's Permacolor overlaminate films are used to add rigidity to photos for indoor or outdoor use and provide protection from moisture, color fading and abrasion. The company's mounting films include optically clear and distortion free films, which are both good choices for mounting photographic prints. The IP5000 white, opaque film is double-coated and enables distortion-free mounting of photo prints and other graphics on a wide array of surfaces.

The see-through aquarium scene was printed on Group360,s Lambda 131 Plus using Fujiclear and was then mounted with MACtac,s Permacolor to 3/8-inch acrylic. Photo courtesy of

"We enjoy working with MACtac; they have good customer service and if we have any questions they are quick to respond," says Curran.

Choosing the right finishing products and a dependable supplier is very important to commercial photo labs. In order to provide the quick turnaround that customers require, using proven products that you know will give you good results time after time is critical. Identifying these products and suppliers early in the game will help to get the most out of your equipment, whether old or new.

Re-thinking Your Business Operations

Staying competitive requires the ability to accept images from various types of customers and be able to access photo files being sent from customers online.

To help increase profit margins, companies will have to continue focusing on reducing operating costs. One primary way is by automating some of the production steps, which reduces the number of staff needed-especially during busier times of the year. But in order to automate, you need to make an investment in equipment. Selecting the best equipment to help you automate effectively should enable you to see dollar savings quickly and help your investment pay for itself in a short period of time.